If you’re thinking about improving your fitness, one of the first places to start is to figure out how much body fat you’re actually carrying around. All too often, people simply assume that the number on the scales can tell then if they are healthy or not. Obviously, people who are severely obese will be able to tell from the scale whether they need to lose weight. For many people, however, the number on the scale just doesn’t give enough information.
Finding your weight on a BMI chart can be a good start, but even this method has some flaws. BMI charts are only capable of showing you where your weight is compared with other people who were measured decades ago. It doesn’t account for how much muscle or fat your body is carrying. For this reason, many professional athletes are considered to be overweight or obese according to a BMI chart. Their muscle makes the number on the scale high.
Fortunately, there are several ways to accurately determine your body fat percentage. They require some work, but it is possible to get a fairly accurate reading by performing all three of these tests then averaging the results.
The cheapest way to get a good idea of your body fat percentage is to grab a tape measure. Take three measurements; your neck, waist, and hips. Plug these numbers into the US Navy’s body fat percentage formula. This formula should give you a result that is within 1 to 3 percent of your actual body fat. Results tend to more skewed for the very lean and very overweight.
This method is accurate, but it is also one of the most expensive. High quality calipers usually cost over $200. However, Amazon has a wide range of calipers ranging from $14.99 and up. Fortunately, most gyms have calipers that you can borrow for a few minutes. Gyms will usually have a person able to take the measurements as well, since this is not a test you can do on your own.
A number of electronic scales now include a body fat measurement. To get this measurement, these scales send a small electric current through your body, then calculate the makeup of your body based on the time it takes for the signal to come back. This method is usually off by about 0.5 to 3 percent. Be aware that the pulse will have a difficult time going past your upper chest, so this method is not very accurate for people with a body of mixed composition.
Of course, the most accurate way to know your body fat is to have an immersion test done in a health clinic. Because these are so inconvenient, however, most people will do well to periodically perform one of the three methods described above. While they might give a number that is a few percentage points off, regular testing will allow you to see the changes in your body.